Can Presidential Power Be Curtailed by Abolishing the Senate?James Cordelaine
The 2016 Presidential Election in November is one of the most important in recent memory. No matter who wins, it seems likely that there will be a lot of changes made in the next four years. However, some fear—and have feared for quite a while—that the President is coming to have too much power. They worry at how often the Commander-in-Chief is able to act without the approval of Congress, if not in direct opposition to it. What can be done to rein in this power for future Presidents? One rather extreme suggestion has been proposed: Abolish the Senate.
The Senate and House of Representatives
The United States currently has what’s called a bicameral legislature—i.e. two different sections. Our government was designed this way from the time our country was first being formed. At the time, it was the solution to a disagreement. Larger states wanted their representation in government to be determined by population, giving them more power by virtue of having more people. Smaller states objected to this, however, and wanted representation to be divided equally—the same number for each.
The ultimate solution was what would become known as the Great Compromise. The government would have two parts. Members of the House of Representatives would be given to each state based on its population. Larger states would have more representatives, and smaller ones would have fewer. The Senate, on the other hand, would have exactly two representatives for each state, regardless of size.
To separate the two powers further, it was determined that the House of Representatives would be elected by popular vote, in order to serve the will of the people, whereas the Senate would be chosen by the State Legislature. However, in 1913, the United States adopted the 17th amendment, which decreed that Senators would be elected by popular vote as well.
Abolishing the Senate
Some have argued that, since the Senate was originally established to represent the states themselves, rather than the people living in them, that electing Senators by popular vote makes it useless. It’s even been said that giving equal legislative power to California (the most populous state) and Wyoming (which has the lowest population) goes against the principles of democracy.
It’s also believed that having a bicameral legislature makes our governing body weak. Because both of them have to agree before legislation is passed, it gives the President more incentive to bypass them entirely and take action himself, instead of waiting for a decision.
Some have advocated combating this overstepping of Presidential power by repealing the 17th amendment and returning us to a Senate that represents the states, not the people. Others believe that the only solution is to abolish the Senate entirely. They feel that it’s outlived its usefulness, as it has evolved to become too much like the House of Representatives. If legislative bodies operate the same way, why do we need both?
These people further believe that having a unicameral (single-body) legislature would bolster the power of the House of Representatives. They would be able to reach decisions more quickly and keep the President’s power in check.
Would abolishing the Senate actually help keep the country more fair and balanced? Should the Legislative branch be restructured or reformed to help it better keep the next President in check? It’s difficult to say. Certainly, such extreme measures would require a great deal of effort and support from the entire country in order to be enacted.
It’s doubtful that anything like this will come to fruition in the foreseeable future. However, in a world where Presidents continue to overstep their power on an increasingly frequent basis, it might be a good idea to look at our options.